Whitehall attorney says pit bull legislation unconstitutional
Whitehall City Council members were barking at each other April 8 over a proposed ordinance to ban pit that the city attorney declared unconstitutional.
Councilwoman Jackie Thompson said she will present the legislation she introduced for its first reading at the April 15 council meeting.
After reviewing the Ohio Attorney General's opinion on the issue, as well as the Ohio Supreme Court decisions, City Attorney Mike Shannon said that he believed the proposal to be unconstitutional because it does not provide for an appeals process.
"Whether or not a dog is a pit bull is a completely separate issue from whether or not a particular pit bull is vicious," Shannon said. "As such, I believe the ordinance you have sponsored is unconstitutional as it does not provide for an appeals board to hear appeals on whether dogs (other than pit bulls) are dangerous and/or vicious, or appeals on whether or not a particular dog is a pit bull."
Shannon looked at Bexley's ordinance and it has an appeals process in place.
Several residents have called for rehiring an animal control officer in Whitehall, rather than targeting a specific breed.
In March of 2007 Bexley's mayor asked council to re-hire an animal control officer as his police officers are not trained to handle vicious dogs, Shannon noted. Bexley hired a new animal control officer last October.
Spotting a pit bull can be difficult, Councilman Bob Bailey said. He was given a poster that had a photo of 20 dogs that looked like pit bulls, but only one was actually the breed.
The councilman asked Thompson who was going to pay for impounding fees if dogs are picked up after a ban goes into effect.
Thompson said it would make sense that the owners would be responsible.
Bailey responded that he spoke to a representative from the Franklin County Health Department who said they would only come out to pick up dogs if they had a contract to do so, and that would be costly for the city.
Thompson continues to contend that Franklin County Animal Control and a local veterinarian could aide in identifying a pit bull.
However, the question kept arising as to whom would pay for those services.
Thompson also has draft legislation for noisy dogs, and wants no dogs outside between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. unless they are under the control of their owner.
Councilman Leo Knoblauch pointed out that the city has a noise ordinance that covers all noises that offend a neighbor. He thinks that is sufficient.
Bailey said that some people have a dog outside for security reasons. He used to have one that didn't like to stay in the house. The only time it barked was to alert him that something was wrong, like when a person was trying break into his garage. Some have hunting dogs in kennels.
Thompson blurted, "Then maybe they should go live in the country."
Councilman Wes Kantor said "Everyone has a choice of where they want to live."
Bailey shared a portion of an email that Thompson had written to him, and sent copies to other council members.
He said that he has been researching the pit bull issue for three months so that he can make an informed decision.
In the email Thompson said "If we allow this city to become a magnet for pit bulls, what use is there in spending millions of dollars on new schools? I can't see supporting the bond issue, when we are doing nothing to improve the safety of our citizens. Who in their right mind would move here?"
Bailey explained that he is trying to defend the law so the city doesn't chance getting sued. He also defended his stance that good schools attract families and businesses, and it is a part of marketing the city.
"We can enhance, strengthen and enforce current codes. Later we can possibly add an animal control officer. Breed- specific law opens us up to other problems down the road," Bailey said.
Mayor John Wolfe agrees that pit bulls are vicious, and he doesn't like to see them in the city.
"But now after hearing everything, I'm not so sure I agree with this legislation," Wolfe said.
He questioned if an attempt would be made later on to rid dogs breed by breed every time there is a complaint about a certain kind of dog. "We will go through this each time."
He doesn't like that council members have been beating each other up over the issue.
"There is no need - end of discussion. Let the legislation do its thing, and make sure it is constitutional. It's been beat to death for three months," concluded Wolfe.
The next council meeting will be April 15 at 7 p.m. Councilman Jim Graham was absent from the meeting.
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